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Robert Browning's Poems.
Why crown whom Zeus has crowned in soul before?
OBERT BROWNING was born in London, May 7th, 1812. His father was engaged in business, but found leisure for large intellectual culture; he had the learning of a scholar and the tastes of an artist. We have a significant picture of him nursing his baby son in the study, singing him to sleep with the Greek cadences of one of Anacreon's hymns. The poet always held his good father in reverent affection, and confessed that, comparing his own advantages with the struggles of so many writers, he had no reason to boast of his achievements. In every respect Robert Browning was fortunate in the environment of his early life. His mother was a refined woman, deeply religious, and profoundly moved by poetry and music. We may
gather the beauty of her character from the remark of a friend, that she had no need to go to heaven, because she made heaven wherever she was. Her influence over her son must have been one of the finest elements in the formation of his character; he always spoke of her with tenderest emotion, saying: "She was a divine woman." His earliest experience of the power of music came to him one day, when, quite a child, he was drawn into a room by the sound of a piano; he found his mother playing some piece which overcame him with such strong feeling, that he threw himself upon her breast in a passion of tears. These two stories of his early days have deep interest for us in the study of the great poet who gave us a noble transcription from the Greek in Balaustion's Adventure, and described, so sublimely, the divine power of music in Abt Vogler.
2.-FIRST PUBLISHED POEM.
Until he was seventeen, Browning had a private education; in 1829, he began to attend classes at University College. As a boy he showed the versatility of his genius by writing verses, studying music, and practising modelling. But, very soon, poetry became his chief pursuit; and his father gave him freedom to devote himself entirely to literature. At first, he had been fascinated by the stormy passion of Byron, but when he was about fourteen, he passed through an intellectual new-birth by an introduction to the works of Keats and Shelley. These two great poets had a profound and permanent influence upon his mental
development; the glowing sensuousness of Keats and the sublime idealism of Shelley form the warp and woof of poems in which realism and transcendentalism are woven into one matchless fabric. After many tentatives, in 1833 Pauline was published; and, for so young a poet, it was full of the highest promise. This poem displays profound intellectual power, a boundless reserve of mighty passion, and a most vital experience of religion as a personal reality. Here we learn his enthusiasm for Shelley, of whom he says:
Sun-treader, life and light be thine for ever!
The air seems bright with thy past presence yet,
E'en in my wildest dreams,
I proudly feel I would have thrown to dust
The wreaths of fame which seemed o'erhanging me,
To see thee for a moment as thou art.
His passion for Shelley is also expressed in Memorabilia and in the opening of Sordello. In one place he foreshadows his almost omniscient sympathy with every aspect, condition, and motive of human character :
I cannot chain my soul: it will not rest
We can also trace the process in which outward events not only happened to him, but, by means of an instant receptivity, became organic elements of his spiritual being. Early in life he had seen a picture of Andromeda chained to a rock; this is how he speaks of its influence upon him :
And she is with me: years roll, I shall change,
As she awaits the snake on the wet beach
By the dark rock and the white wave just breaking
I doubt not, nor fear for, secure some god
To save will come in thunder from the stars.
But especially is Pauline significant as indicating young Browning's religious sympathies. Of Christ, he says:
O thou pale form, so dimly seen, deep-eyed!
Pant when I read of thy consummate power,
And, in connection with the full expansion of the thought in Easter Day, these lines are of great interest :
My God, my God, let me for once look on thee
I do not plead my rapture in thy works
Who cannot die: but there is that in me
Which turns to thee, which loves or which should love.
Pauline cannot be too deeply studied by us, as we endeavour to explore the genius of Browning.
3.-PARACELSUS: STRAFFORD SORDELLO.
When Browning was about twenty-one years of age he commenced a course of travels through Europe. During his tour he visited Italy, and all his readers are familiar with the priceless treasures of wisdom and experience he gathered in that country. The attractions of Asolo, especially, are immortalised in his poems; in this white city, between the mountains and the Lombard plain, Pippa spent her innocent childhood, and in its suburbs she sang her songs; while it was 66 our delicious Asolo" that gave the name of Asolando to the volume published when the poet was on his death-bed.
It was the publication of Paracelsus, in 1835, that established his literary reputation, and secured him the friendship of many distinguished men. The young poet had no more ardent admirer than Mr. W. J. Fox, minister of South Place Chapel, Finsbury, who had already discerned the genius of the anonymous author of Pauline. In Paracelsus, the traditions of the famous. scientific mystic are used to describe the development of certain moods of mind; in matchless verse we are told how a great soul wrestled with some of the most perplexing problems of life. Although there is little